Beneath the Sapphire City, buried even deeper than the ruins of the fallen Empire that it had been built upon, lay the crypt of the last Queen of the second Era. Remora the Jackal Queen, who had ruled for only one day before her reign had come to a violent end.
Her plans for eternal life had not borne fruit, and she had died like the brother she had murdered. Her blood had been royal, but she had bled all the same.
At least that was what the stories told. A madwoman, possessed by a vainglorious notion. There was no place in the songs of old to tell about her cunning and her charisma, or about her peerless command of the arts of necromancy and illusory magic. There was no place in song for subtlety and complexity. There was no room for allies, and collaborators, and agreements made behind closed doors. Only for Heroes and Monsters. The Queen had died, and the world had been in all too much of a hurry to bury her memory underneath the comforting lie that she had been nothing but a deranged temptress, nothing but a cheap schemer.
But some people had been not so easy to forget. People in black robes. People with poisoned daggers, and their own ambitions at immortality.
For thousands of years, those people had failed. Rumors of forgotten journals, enchanted lockets, pools of blood. They had all turned out to be fabrications.
Until two weeks ago.
“Are you sure about this?” Raena asked as she stared into the black mouth of the undercrypt.
“I am, sister,” Orenna replied, her heart beating fast in her chest. Her torch illuminated the pitch blackness around them, revealing cracked stonework overgrown with spiderwebs of centuries.
Raena nodded, her lips pressed tight.
“We should turn back and report to the steward! Tell him what we found. Surely, he will listen this time!”
Orenna shook her head. “He didn’t believe us the first time, when we told him that we heard Remora speak. We told him that we saw her specter escape, only for his men to laugh at us and tell him they had stopped the ritual. Their word is all he cares about, not the word of two adventurers.”
“We could try to get an audience with the King himself!” Raena protested, “Maybe he will—”
“No, Raena,” Olanna snapped, and her voice reverberated through the endless maze of the buried city. “There is no more time! We followed the magic all the way here! You feel how strong it is! We cannot delay. Once we return, it might be too late!”
Raena opened her mouth to protest further, but suddenly, a noise came from the undercrypt, and they both looked down the broad, seemingly endless staircase that led even further down underground, to the deepest place. The place where the ancient ones had buried that which they had wanted to forget... or contain.
“What was that?” Reana whispered.
“I don’t know,” Orenna said. She took a step forward, holding out the torch to her side.
“Hold this,” she said, and Reana did as she was asked. Orenna readied her bow, and notched an arrow. She took another step, looking down the stairs, trying to make out something in the darkness.
And then, suddenly, she saw something. A faint, octarine glow. Small. Far away. Shaped like a human, or an elf.
“Something’s moving. Something magic,” she whispered.
“Gods, you were right,” Raena whispered back, sounding quite afraid. “Remora is here.”
“Either her, or something else,” Orenna answered. “Ready yourself.”
“Maybe it didn’t notice us.”
“We are holding a torch. We’ve been noticed,” Orenna said, and she saw Raena shrink into herself. She had been afraid that this would happen.
“Rae, listen to me. We can do this. She must be greatly weakened. The ritual to bind her wasn’t fully completed. She is just a remnant. A ghost. And we prepared for that, didn’t we?”
Raena looked at her with wide eyes. “I… yes. Yes.”
“And we have dealt with ghosts before, haven’t we?”
Raena nodded, looking more confident. “Yes. Formless spectres. Human-shaped ghosts. Magic and silver will kill them. Magic and silver.”
“That’s right, Rae. Magic and silver,” Oressa said with a thin smile, meaningfully looking at the silver-tipped arrow that she had notched.
Raena took a deep breath and shook her loose hands, and they began to glow with the same octarine color that was slowly getting more defined at the end of the stairs.
“I know how to do this. Magic and silver,” she said.
“We’ll let it come to us,” Oressa said. “Fight on our terms.”
The figure grew larger in their view, and they could hear it groan now, and hear its shuffling, awkward footsteps.
It didn’t take much longer for them to see what it was: An animated corpse, ancient and half-mummified, but not yet skeletal.
“Just a zombie,” Oressa said. “Do you want to do the honors, sister?”
“Just a zombie,” Raena repeated, voice tight. “Yes. Of course.”
With that, she drew a circle into the air in front of her with her hand, then slashed through it and drew her hand back, and in her palm, the air had ignited into a magical ball of fire, glowing deep orange and faint octarine.
She thrust her arms forward and hurled the magic flame at the walking undead, and the fiery orb ignited against it with great force, billowing into an explosion and throwing the creature back. Even as it toppled, it caught ablaze, and tumbled down the stairs in a disintegrating fireball.
“Just a zombie,” Raena said, breathing with relief.
“Well done,” Oressa said. “You—”
Suddenly, a great gust of air blew out of the crypt. “Welcome, little ones!” a voice echoed through the air, as loud as thunder and as bright as church bells. A woman’s voice.
Both women winced, and turned their heads, spinning around to see if there was anything or anyone behind them. But there was no one. The voice had come from thin air.
“I knew you would come after me. You were there, at the ritual. You stopped those cultists from binding my spirit. I am quite indebted to you.”
“It’s her!” Raena hissed. “It’s the Jackal Queen!”
“Is that what they came to call me?” the voice boomed. It sounded amused. “A pity.”
Orenna looked at her sister, Raena’s face had gone white.
“She’s just a spectre,” she assured her. “We will deal with her!”
“Yes. Come to me while you still can. While I am still here! You will make good servants in death! You will be first among my army!”
“Keep dreaming while you can,” Oressa spat. “Soon your sleep will be eternal.”
“Yours will not be, littles ones. Your deaths will last mere moments, and then you will take your place by my side.”
There was a last gust of wind, and the voice faded, and the air became still.
“We need to get the Emperor’s regiment,” Raena said.
“No!” Oressa shouted. “You heard her! She is raising an army of undead, and she will not be here for long. Remember what the priest said?”
“With every soul she raises, she becomes stronger,” Raea said gravely. “But why does it have to be us?”
Oressa lost her temper. “Gods damn it, stop!!!” she screamed. “Pull yourself together! You sound like we haven't done this before. We can do this, sister! You’re strong! I know this! We shall burn them and return them to the graves from which they sprang!”
“I’m going in there, with or without you. We can’t take the chance. We have to act, or she will become too powerful!”
For a moment, Raena seemed to be on the brink of breaking down. Then, her expression hardened, and she nodded.
“You’re right. We have to do this. Magic and silver!”
“Magic and silver!” Oressa said with a smile, and together they descended into the depths.
The undercrypt was just as vast and treacherous as the buried ruins above them. They walked for more than an hour without encountering anything. Many times, they found themselves at the end of a caved-in corridor, or in a dead-end burial chamber. This was a necropolis.
A necropolis without any dead.
“Where are her minions?” Raena whispered. “I thought there would be minions.”
“I don’t know,” Odessa whispered back as she checked another alcove for a way to proceed. “All the crypts are sealed. None of the sarcophagi are empty.”
“Not without laboriously breaking stone and noisily moving heavy coffin lids. I think she bluffed. Just like the songs said: A cheater and a liar.”
“A ghost, bluffing?” Raena asked. “Also, didn’t she say that she wanted us to come to her? If she has no undead servants to fight for her, why would she provoke us? Wouldn’t she tell us that there was no way we could defeat her?”
“A double bluff, maybe. She tries to spin her old web of deception. She was an overambitious schemer in life, after all. It appears she is one in death, as well. She must have forgotten how her schemes all failed in the end.”
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Raena said. They had found another crossroads, and Raena carved an arrow into the wall pointing into the direction they had come from like she had done every time they had been forced to choose one path among many.
“Don’t worry. Tricky or not, she’s just a remnant. Silver and magic will kill her.”
Raena nodded tightly, and they kept walking.
As they arrived at another large crossroad, a gust of wind made the spiderwebs around them dance like tattered curtains.
“So close now, little ones. Soon, you will join me. I look forward to trapping your souls and bending them to my will!”
They jumped in surprise. Raena immediately drew a large square into the air front of her, and threw her hand up above her head. A shimmer appeared around her. A spell of protection. Oressa in turn went into a wide stance and readied her bow, her eyes piercing the darkness for a glow of octarine, or any movement.
But nothing seemed to happen. For a while they stood there, bodies tense, ready for an attack. But apart from their breathing and the occasional shuffle of their feet, there was no more sound. Darkness stretched in all directions around them, unmoving, unchanging. Still.
Raena’s spell eventually faded, and she did not recast it. They were still alone. At least, so it seemed.
They moved on. Along the halls they went, rounding corners, exploring the absolute dark of the undercrypt, until they finally found something. Something that glowed with the color of magic.
For a brief moment, they were about to ready their arms again, but they quickly realised that this time, the octarine glow in front of them was not emanating from a creature, but from something else:
A stone portal.
In front of them, the hall suddenly widened into an expansive antechamber, and the door lay at the opposite end. They stepped forward, and the light of their torch did not illuminate the ceiling of the space they were entering. Their footsteps echoed across the air now.
“Of course!” She said. “It’s a seal! She wants us to break the seal. Some part of her must be trapped in there.”
“She thinks we’re that stupid?” Oressa scoffed, shaking her head. She turned around to face her sister, and Raena was nearly smiling. Odessa couldn’t help but return it. The relief was like warm water running over her body.
For a moment they looked at each other thoughtfully.
“Back out, then?” Oressa asked, and Raena’s smile grew wider.
“Yup,” Raena said.
But just as she said it, there came an enormous crashing sound, and the both spun around just in time to see the glowing stone doors fly open as if they were made of thin wood. A mighty gust of wind blew across them, extinguishing their torch.
As the light died, they saw the bright octarine glow that emanated from beyond the open doors, pulsating and shimmering.
“The seal has been broken by those who failed to summon me!” boomed Remora’s voice. “I have already been unleashed.”
The both of them stared at the light in stunned surprise. With every word of the fallen Queen, the light beyond the portal pulsated in an octarine rainbow.
When the Mad Queen’s words filled the air again, they sounded no less pervasive, but much calmer. Almost conversational.
“It is a simple matter, little ones,” spoke the ghostly voice. “You wish to return me to the grave, and I wish to face you. Should you decide to flee, once you return I will have become too powerful to defeat. This is your one and only chance to strike me down. Will you take it?”
Oressa looked at her sister, expecting her to say the same thing that she herself was thinking: ‘What do we do now?’
Instead, Raena looked at her with steely eyes and said: “She’s right. Let’s go kill her once and for all.”
The burial chamber was like a cathedral, bathed in bright octarine light. The magic seemed to be permeating everything: The tall tone pillars that branched into pointed arches overhead. The crypts that lined the walls. The rows and rows of stone sarcophagi that gave the impression of church benches filling the length of the chamber, at the end of which rose a tall dais of many steps.
Atop the dais, before a row of open sarcophagi, stood a bright glowing figure. A mummified, dessicated creature that was barely discernible as a woman beneath the blinding glow of her evil power. Only her long, flowing raiments betrayed her identity:
The Jackal Queen.
Next to her on either side stood five undead creatures each, clad in tattered armor, wearing rusted crowns. Iron crowns, not golden. The disgraced kings of two thousand years. Those who had failed to bring honor to the ancient empire.
“So this is your Army?” she mocked. She had almost thrice that many silver arrows as there were foes. And even without those arrows, her silver short sword would easily be enough to cut them down.
“No,” shouted the voice of the Queen, and the glowing figure at the end of the hall raised its hands. “These are my decoys.”
The light of the room turned blindingly bright, and behind them, the door slammed shut. And just as the massive stone portal sealed itself, the ten undead kings sprang into life, and began to attack.
This was it. It was time to end this.
Oressa was the first to strike. Her arrow hit true, and as it pierced the undead creature’s heart, the dim octarine glow in its eyes failed, and it collapsed like a broken doll.
Less than a moment later a blazing fireball sailed over Oressa’s shoulder and caught two of them in a scorching blaze. They let out a rattling, wheezing screech as Raena’s Magic ignited them and they disintegrated into ashes and embers.
Oressa loosed another arrow at the undead mob that was running towards them, missing on of them by a hair. Behind her, Raena was casting a circle of protection, and Oressa took a step back, firing two more arrows, felling another one of them.
Their foes were nearly upon them now, trying to surround them — and a burst of magical thunder threw one of them into a stone sarcophagus, breaking its rotten bodies into pieces as stone shattered and bones cracked. Odessa stood firmly by her sister’s side, loosing another arrow as the remaining creatures crashed into the circle of protection. The air shimmered, and the undead fiends were thrown back by magical force. Another arrow, and another fireball, and only two of Remora’s minions remained standing.
The undead threw themselves into the magic barrier like rabid dogs, and this time they broke through. One of them thrust its rusted sword at them, nearly hitting Raena. But Odessa was there. She swung her sturdy bow, smashing it into the creature’s skull and sweeping across both of them, throwing them off-balance. They staggered back, but were still too close. She let the bow fall and drew her sword, swinging it forward and slashing into the closer one of them. She felt the blade connect, slicing through brittle bones and rotten flesh, and its head tumbled to the floor.
She was just about to turn around when the last remaining undead screeched and threw itself at her. She had no time to counter. Her back was half-turned towards it. It was upon her, above her, raising its sword to deal a killing blow. Its glowing eyes spelled fury and death.
A crash of white-hot lightning arced through the air, and Oressa smelled the sickening odor of burned flesh and ozone, and the creature collapsed into a lifeless heap. Reana had killed it.
“Weak, rotten flesh. You will serve me so much better than them!”
They looked at the end of the hall. The glowing undead creature had risen into the air, floating a foot off the stone floor.
Oressa sprang forward, quickly sheathing her sword and going for the bow she had discarded a moment ago. She picked it up as she slid across the floor, notching an arrow and loosening it a quick, fluid motion.
At the same time, another ball of magic fire arched through the air, trailing her arrow as it went for the same target.
They both missed.
The creature darted to the side, quicker than they had ever seen something like it move. Oressa drew a sharp breath of alarm. Usually the undead were lumbering, clumsy creatures, their rotten limbs and calcified bones too long devoid of life to be as agile as the undead form of the Witch Queen. This was a problem.
The Queen threw her arms forward, and a pillar of light erupted from the ground beneath them — and they were just barely quick enough to throw themselves to the side and dodge the burst of ice-cold death magic. If they had been any slower and been caught in it, it would undoubtedly have been their end.
“How can she still be this powerful?!” Raena shouted. She had taken cover behind a sarcophagus. “We killed her servants! She should be barely able to hold on to her form!”
Oressa had taken cover behind a pillar. She cursed. What now? She hadn’t much time to think. Any moment now, the next attack would hit.
“Green Sparrow!” she shouted, and her sister understood the coded message. Oressa raised three fingers and very quickly counted down to one. Then, she notched an arrow and spun out of cover, loosening at the queen. At the same time, Raena drew both her hands in the air, her face contorted with the strain of casting two spells at once. She wound up, and catapulted the fireballs in a v-shape left and right of the undead queen.
Whichever way the undead queen would try to avoid it, she would dodge right into them.
But just as Raena and Oressa unleashed their attack, the Queen had her own arms raised again. Oressa caught the eruption of pure magical light in the corner of her eye, a mere moment before her arrow struck the glowing creature in the heart. Less than a blink later, Raena’s fireballs exploded around it, enveloping it in a veil of flame.
The creature screamed, and died, and the bright glow that had been illuminating the room turned into utter blackness.
Oressa turned her head towards her sister, but the tomb had fallen pitch black.
“Raena?!” Oressa shouted into the darkness, panic in her voice. She had seen the pillar of death magic erupt at Raena’s feet, just as Raena had finished hurling her magical fire.
For just a moment, there was no answer — then Raena’s voice echoed through the chamber.
“That was too damn close!” she said, and her voice sounded strained and out of breath, as if she had just thrown herself to the side and landed on the hard stone floor, which was probably exactly what had happened.
Oressa breathed a sigh of relief — and a moment later they both burst into nervous, breathless laughter as the exhilarating thrill of a won battle washed over them. For a long moment they laughed, taking deep breaths between bursts of gladness, slowly calming as the blood in their veins stopped hammering against their temples.
After a while, Oressa heard Raena stand up, and her sister cast a spell. A glowing orb of brilliant magic coalesced between her hands and floated towards the ceiling, filling the hall with octarine light. It was the same light that had illuminated the burial chamber before: The light of magic. But this time it was their light. Not that of an evil spirit.
Seeing the chamber lay empty and still in the steady light of her sister’s magic calmed Oressa, and after a moment of further respite, she made toward the end of the chamber.
“Let’s see if we can snatch a crown off the crazy queen’s head to get some sort of proof of what we did,” Oressa said, and climbed the dais.
The corpse of Remora was clad in scarlet robes, and it wasn’t wearing a crown at all, unlike the ancient kings she had made fight for her.
“This isn’t a queen.” Raena said. “This is a high cleric.”
“Wait,” Oressa gasped, the feeling of alarm suddenly tingling in her limbs. “That can’t be. If this isn’t her, then—”
A bolt of light arced through her, and her eyes flew open. Ice-cold pain exploded through her chest and she gasped for air, staggering, then falling to her knees.
“NO!” Raena screamed, and she turned around to look at something Oressa couldn’t see. She tried to turn her head to see what had happened, but she couldn’t. Her vision was turning dark, and the black pain in her chest was overwhelming. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe.
Suddenly she realized that her heart had stopped.
Next to her Raena was still staring at whatever had done this, her face in utter shock, paralyzed by fear.
“What part of ‘decoy’ didn’t you understand?” laughed the cruel, disembodied voice of Queen Remora, and another bolt of death magic cut the air. Raena ducked away, out of Oressa’s fading vision, and the bolt crashed into the wall in an eruption of sickening light.
No. Don’t leave me!, Oressa thought. There was so much pain, and Raena was gone. She couldn’t see her sister anymore. She was alone. She was… she was...
Her vision turned black, and everything ended.
And then, there was something else. Something… after.
Her soul was floating on a river of light toward an endless horizon. Her thoughts weren’t even thoughts anymore, but she was still there, floating and drifting and glowing with the light around her. She felt peaceful, but also a sense of quiet melancholy.
She knew she was dead. It no longer scared her. Fear was for the living, and she didn’t have to feel it anymore. There were other things that she had left behind as well: Joy. Excitement. Love. Connection. Her sister. Those had been good things, and not feeling them anymore was part of the quiet sadness that still lingered within her. But she knew that the sadness would pass soon, as well. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t be long until Raena joined her in the light.
If only Raena knew that she didn’t need to be afraid. Raena had always been so afraid.
But it was alright. Everything was going to be alright. She realized it now. Now that she was passing on. She felt eternity stretch in both directions at either end of her life and she knew that she was merely returning home from a short stroll. She was light and always had been, and she was once again becoming part of what she used to be. Her journey had ended, and her experiences would become part of the greater light, making it even brighter.
She was calm as she drifted on, peacefully accepting how she felt herself become one with it. Felt herself glow and shine. She was becoming light. So light. So very—
—something violent ripped her around, ripped her open. The light turned sour, and she felt the horizon keel over, and she tumbled, slipped, fell. She tried to hold on, but there was nothing. Nothing at all to stop her from falling back, from being torn open and ripped into pieces. She was nothing. She was so small. She was only the tiny thing that had passed on. The light around her had turned bad, and she was falling into it, was being turned into it as it tore at her and tossed her around and violated her. She felt pieces of herself coming off and being left behind. Destroyed.
She didn’t want this. She wanted to become part of the light. Find peace. Pass on.
Not this! Not going back! Not—
Unbearable pain lashed through her, and something was ripped out of her — tossed aside. She didn’t know what it had been. She already didn’t remember. The memory had been drowned by blinding light.
She tumbled and tumbled, and everything turned black around her, but the light was inside of her, pushing its fingers into her eyes, and she saw the light in her mind, calling to her, pulling her, owning her. The horizon dissolved, and the new light filled her, and clarity came to her.
She fell, and fell, and fell. Toward the light. Toward her purpose.
Oressa screamed as the magic rammed her flayed soul back into her dead body.
She felt her muscles flex, her skin stretch, her bones ache. She was flesh again.
She rose to her feet and looked around. Raena’s arcane light was still illuminating the burial chamber, which meant that her sister was still alive to keep the spell going.
“You’re going to fucking pay for this!” Raena’s voice echoed through the hall, but it was hard to discern where it was coming from. Oressa kept looking around, trying to find her. But there was no movement to be seen. Raena had taken cover. She was hidden from view.
“Such a wilful creature,” boomed the voice of Remora, and as the voice spoke, the air above Oressa filled with thin octarine strands of lights, shimmering and coalescing into a bright nexus of energy. And from that nexus, moments later, hateful magic erupted. A dart of death magic shot through the burial chamber, and from behind one of the pillars, Raena came stumbling into view. She had just dodged Remora’s killing spell.
Raena frantically shuffled forward into the more open space of the burial chamber and was just about to duck behind the cover of a stone sarcophagus when she saw Oressa standing across the chamber.
Their eyes met.
For the shortest of moments, Raena looked hopeful and relieved. But then she saw the arcane glow in Oressa’s eyes, and her expression turned into despair as she understood that her sister was still dead.
Oressa looked at the enemy of her Mistress with hatred and purpose in her dead heart, and knew that Raena had to die, too.
Raena threw another fireball her way, but Oressa dodged it easily. She felt her muscles sing with her Mistress’s dark magic, making her faster, making her stronger, and there was no more heartbeat in her chest that disturbed the calmness of her resolve to serve and kill for the one she served.
She gained on Raena, every step closer making it harder for Oressa to dodge, but also making her a harder target to hit. Her sister drew a shape into the air — but Oressa recognized the spell before Raena even had a chance to finish it. She rolled forward behind cover and felt Raena’s spell arch over her as it missed. She heard a loud crash behind her as the arcane energy blasted ancient stone into rubble. Oressa pulled a dagger from her boot and sprang to her feet, then threw the blade at the woman that had to die.
Her aim was true, but Raena blocked the dagger with a wave of raw magic impulse. Oressa was already on the move again, circling, darting — and a bolt of lightning arced through the air where she had stood moments ago. Oressa hissed with rage.
Some part of her had expected Raena to plead and beg with her, unable to accept the truth. It would have been an easy opportunity to overwhelm her and end her life. But her sister hadn’t done that. She had immediately realized that Oressa had become Remora’s servant in glorious death.
But Oressa was close, now. She had closed the distance between them. She could clearly see the fear in Raena’s eyes as her sister failed to hit her with another bolt of fire.
Raena would die. Remora demanded it and Oressa obeyed her will. One last feint, and one more step, and she was upon her. Raena tried to cast a spell — but Oressa snatched her hand and held it firmly, and her magic sizzled out in her cramping palm. Raena screamed in pain as Oressa twisted her arm around with deadly strength and clasped her other hand around Raena's throat.
Oressa was ready to squeeze the life out of her when Raena’s free arm made a sudden movement — and Oressa felt a sudden blinding pain in her chest. She screamed, and her voice sounded monstrous and inhuman in its rage. She looked down at herself, and saw a dagger sticking out of her torso, buried deep in her heart. Hate and fury took hold of her. Raena had to die!
She caught Raena’s other arm, and pulled her close as her sister continued to struggle, trying to break free.
“NO!” Raena finally screamed. There were tears in her eyes. “PLEASE NO!”
But it was too late for her. She had lost. Around them, thin tendrils of arcane light began to coalesce as her Mistress’s power built itself up.
Oressa could break her neck, or smash her skull into the stone. But the purpose that owned her told her to simply wait. Raena tried to break free, tried to kick out, tried to cast a simple force spell, but Oressa didn’t let her. She had to obey. She had to kill. She held Raena tightly, keeping her steady, keeping her in the same spot until—
A flash of cold light, and a bolt of her Mistress’s power cut the air — and went through both of them. Oressa did not flinch as the coldness of death penetrated her for the second time. There was nothing in her that was left to die.
But Raena did.
She gasped, and Oressa felt her whole body tighten. She looked into her sister’s eyes, and saw the last moment of shock and despair in them. The last moment in which she didn’t yet belong to Mistress. The last moment before her death.
Then, her eyes went empty, and the arcane light in the burial chamber became extinguished as she collapsed at Oressa’s feet.
Oressa shuddered as the joy of her Mistress’s triumph rippled through her undead body. She had served. She had killed. She had obeyed.
“Well done, my servant,” said Mistress’s disembodied voice, echoing through the pitch-black burial chamber just as it echoed through Oressa’s subjugated soul.
For a moment, there was only the darkness of the deepest underground. Then, as her Mistress’s power gathered itself once more, the shimmering light of magic again began illuminating the burial chamber.
Oressa looked at the corpse at her feet, and saw shadows dance across her sister's dead eyes. They were wide-open, frozen in shock and pain. Her unmoving body lay on the stone floor like a discarded toy.
The arcane light around her grew stronger, and Oressa could feel the surge of power build up. Familiar power. Mistress’s power. The black magic of necromancy. It was coalescing, gathering, focussing. Mistress was so much stronger than they had thought.
It happened quickly. Without ceremony. Without celebration.
An eruption of black magic shook the air. Octarine light rippled through Raena’s body and her lifeless, unseeing eyes filled with the glow of Remora’s magic like blood staining still water.
Then, without blinking, the corpse's face hardened. The frozen expression of a woman afraid to die gave way to a resolute mask of grim purpose. There was no moment of suprise or shock. No confusion. No hesitation. Only acceptance and knowing purpose.
The undead servant that had once been Raena rose to her feet and looked around. Her eyes narrowed, and met those of her undead sister — and the only light that lived in them was that of the magic that bound her will. Remora had taken her life and her soul, and made her into her servant.
The undead sisters looked at each other, their eyes hard and unfeeling, their expressions without emotion. For a moment, they felt nothing but purpose in their dead hearts.
Then, Raena pulled the dagger from Oressa’s chest - and smiled.
It was a smile without warmth, without love, without levity. She sheathed the steel dagger and watched as black blood seeped slowly out of Oressa’s wound. Oressa smiled back. The pain in her chest was insignificant compared to the primal satisfaction of seeing Raena’s eyes aglow in undead service.
Yes. Instead of the spark of life, the cold light of their Mistress’s magic danced at the back of her eyes, and yet they were not the unseeing eyes of the shambling corpses that they had defeated to earn their place. In both their eyes burned a terrible clarity — an absolute, unending zeal.
“Mistress,” Oressa said without taking her eyes off Raena. Her pierced heart would never beat again, and yet she felt a dark excitement rushing through her veins. “We are yours.”
“And is it not wonderful?” sang the voice that owned them. She was in the very air. She was in their flesh, and in their bones, and in their souls. They were hers.
“It is,” Raena said. “Your will is ours. Command us.”
The air crystallized into glowing strands, and the strands wove themselves together in a complex web that tightened and tightened and converged, until finally, the glow had taken the shape of a woman. A ghostly spectre, made from necrotic energy.
Remora. Their Queen. Their Mistress.
“My servants,” said the apparition as it floated towards them. “My beautiful servants. Such supple bodies. So strong. So full of vitality.”
“I do not understand,” said the servant that had been Raena. “How is this possible? My every desire is to serve you. My thoughts rally behind your will — but how do I have a mind to think at all? Should this body of yours not be a mindless husk?”
The specter laughed, a cutting, grating noise that filled the servants with excitement and joy.
“By now you should understand that I am no simple necromancer. Any adept with a sufficient lack of morals can animate a corpse. And once the body has turned cold, truly there isn’t much else to be done than mere puppetry.”
The specter of their Mistress reached out, and touched Raena on her cheek. Raena shivered.
“But if one acts fast enough, the Soul has not yet fully departed. A paladin or a cleric might still have resurrected you; restored your body, and returned your soul, if it was willing.”
Remora reached out to Oressa, and waves of her Queen’s will washed through her existence like fresh water and the taste of honey. She gasped for air that she no longer needed.
“That was what dear Lucius taught me — before he betrayed me,” Remora said, and they knew she was talking about the red-robed priest that she had used as a decoy. “I thought that I had found my soulmate. So much ambition. Such ruthlessness. Such vision.”
“Such a pity. Raena. Turn him to ashes.”
Raena’s hands ignited into glowing embers, her flesh glowing red as if the very blood in her veins had ignited. With a sweeping motion, she summoned a pillar of flame on the dais, and for a moment, Oressa had to avert her face to bear the unbearable heat that radiated from it.
When she turned back, the dais had been scorched clean.
“A high priest and a necromancer,” the Queen said. “It would have been perfect, if the pathetic fool hadn’t decided to grow a conscience. In the end it was he who killed me — but not without me dragging him to the grave along with me.”
For a moment there again was silence. Then their Queen continued.
“But this need not concern you, my servants. All you must know is that I returned your souls to your broken bodies — to the bodies that already belonged to me. And just like your bodies were my broken possession, so did your souls become broken in the process. And you became slaves to my will.”
“Slaves to your will,” Oressa proclaimed coldly. “We will lead your army, or become part of it. Whatever you desire. Whatever you demand.”
“We are your instruments,” Raena promised, her voice as hard and unshakable as the stone beneath her feet.
Oressa’s dead soul hummed with purpose and black joy. What Mistress had promised had come true. They were hers. They had died, but Mistress had not allowed it. Instead, she had raised them — raised them into service, into absolute obedience. They no longer had any will but Mistress’s will. They had no purpose but Mistress’s command. They felt nothing anymore but blind, zealous devotion to the one that she served.
Together, they would slay anyone who stood in their way, and those they killed would become part of their army, just like Oressa and Raena. Servants. Slaves to their Queen’s will.
Oressa could not wait to bury her blade in their hearts in the name of her Mistress. She would kill them all, just like she had killed Raena.
Something in her flesh shivered with cruel joy, and Mistress spoke:
“Ah, yes,” the Queen said, “I can feel your thoughts, and they please me greatly. Until now, I only heard the deathly silence of a thousand mindless husks. It has been so long since I felt those earthly desires. I had nearly forgotten those irresistible feelings of flesh and skin. I can taste your hunger. I can smell your excitement. I can feel your bodies tremble with purpose! More! Give me more!”
And suddenly, the arcane energies of her Mistress dispersed into thin mist, and the mist enveloped them, surrounding them with sickly light. It chilled their skin, and crept underneath their armor, underneath their garments.
“Mine. You are mine,” echoed the voice of Remora, and the mist undulated like a flock of birds.
“Yes,” Oressa said. Her skin was prickling with Mistress’s presence and her thoughts were opaque with purpose and obedience. The Queen’s spirit was so close. The thing that owned her. The thing that she served.
Suddenly, the mist billowed out. And then, like a tempestuous waterfall rushing down into an underground river, it entered Raena.
The undead servant trembled as the magic spilled into her, possessing her, controlling her. Her eyes had become blinding orbs as bright as the hottest flame. They no longer merely harbored the dim glow of controlled will, but the blinding physical presence of Mistress herself.
The servant sighed, and her lips spread into a wide smile.
“Yes…” said the thing that wore Raena’s body. “Yes… I have missed this so.”
The Queen dragged her hands down her fresh body, squeezing tightly against the undead flesh she had possessed. She licked her lips, and her expression was unlike anything that Raena’s face had ever worn. It wasn’t her. Her Mistress had taken what was hers.
“‘Harlot’, they called me. ‘Philanderer’. ‘Fornicator’.”
She looked at Oressa, and Oressa could feel her own body tremble with the lust that radiated out from her Mistress. She could feel the Queen’s will burn against her mind like a black sun.
The Queen’s smile turned wicked.
“Well, they were right about that one thing, at least. Disrobe, my servant.”
Oressa obeyed. She loosened the buckles on her armor and relieved herself of it. She discarded her scabbard, her bow, her boots. She took off her garments and her smallclothes, and bared the dead body that now served the Queen.
“How very pleasing,” said her Mistress, glowing eyes wandering over Oressa’s naked flesh with an expression of satisfaction and primal hunger.
“And now this one,” she said, and laid a hand upon her own breast.
Oressa felt her Mistress’s will flow into her, and she bared her sister-servant’s dead flesh, too. The flesh that she had killed. The flesh that had once belonged to her closest friend and sister and now belonged to her.
“Good,” said the one she served, and commanded Oressa to her knees before her naked body. Oressa obeyed, and as she knelt, she could smell the sweat and the fragrance of her sister’s sex. She could see the moist dew between the hairy folds in front of her. Flesh that served. Bound in death. Hers to command. Hers to use. Hers to feel.
“Give us the pleasure that only flesh can bring,” the Queen commanded, and Oressa obediently dove into the wet folds of her sister’s body with an open mouth. She was dead, but she still tasted. She still felt the warmth. She still felt herself shiver and moisten as the pleasure of her Mistress resonated in her eager, obedient soul. She mindlessly licked the throbbing shame in front of her, making her sister-servant’s flesh shiver, and she heard her moan with pleasure as she fucked her.
Soon, she sensed that her Queen’s pleasure was cresting, and she redoubled her efforts. Her Mistress screamed and panted, lower body trembling with overflowing arousal. Oressa tasted the wetness against her working tongue and felt soft flesh press against her lips. She sucked hard on it, hungry for obedience, hungry to serve, hungry to please.
And she did. She served. She obeyed.
She made her come.
Raena’s voice echoed through the chamber as her body spasmed and convulsed against Oressa’s mouth, and Oressa could not contain her own moans of lust as her Mistress’s pleasure spilled over into her obedient and controlled mind.
“I want more,” said their Queen, and glowing mist erupted from Raena’s eyes and mouth, billowed out, and crashed into Oressa.
Her Mistress's power hit the back of her eyes and ripped out her thoughts like weeds, displacing her and violently pushing her against the wall of the universe, almost crushing her, almost extinguishing her. And yet she lingered at the frayed edge of existence, so impossibly close to her, so impossibly connected. She was beneath her heel. She was at the end of her strings. She was a rabbit in the jaws of a vixen. She was truly hers now. Fully hers.
Her body got to her feet on her Mistress’s behalf. Oressa felt her muscles flex and her tendons tighten, and none of it was her doing.
“Serve,” she said, but it was not her that had been speaking. Her mouth had moved, but it had been her Mistress that had done the moving. She was Remora’s puppet. Her body was hers. Her feelings were hers. Her pleasure was hers. She was being used. It was her purpose. What little she had left of herself felt nothing but joy and purpose.
Oressa watched out of her own eyes and witnessed how the fanatic light of servitude returned to Raena’s eyes. Her sister’s enslaved soul had been handed back the reins to her body, and she obediently went to task.
Oressa barely felt the hot pleasure between her legs, diminished and suppressed as everything felt at the edge of her own existence. But she felt the power that controlled her quake with every stroke of her sister’s tongue. She felt her Mistress’s spirit squirm and moan through her mouth as she used Oressa’s serving flesh to bring herself to climax.
When her body finally reached the peak of pleasure, and her Queen screamed through her mouth, even her chained and buried soul felt the hot ripples of pleasure burn through her body.
When it was done, she felt the wonderful chokehold loosen, and her enslaved soul spread once more through her body, taking possession of it once again, to serve and to obey.
The specter of her Mistress spilled out of her eyes and reassembled itself into the ghostlike image of a woman, standing next to them.
“Now you know how lucky you are, servants.” she said. “Had you tried to escape, you would have become nothing but mindless foot soldiers in my army. Repurposed flesh. Dead. Rotting. Cold.”
“But we are not,” Oressa said, cold certainty blooming in her dead heart.
Raena looked at her servant sister. “We are more than that,” she knew.
“Yes.” said their Mistress. “You are unliving. Reaped souls in a dead body.”
“Bound to serve,” Oressa hissed with a smile.
“Bound to serve,” Raena repeated.
They felt their Mistress smile.
"You feel no more love," the Queen said. "No more fear. No more compassion. No more doubt."
"Only glorious purpose," Oressa said. Purpose in servitude. Purpose in submission. Purpose in...
"--and joyful obedience." Raena completed, and they both felt the Queen's approval sing in their dead hearts. They wanted nothing else. They had no other purpose. They were hers. They would serve.
“You will not decay," the Queen went on "Your flesh will not grow cold. This is my gift for giving yourself to me.“
“We did not give ourselves,“ Oressa said, her head bowed in demure submission. “You claimed us, against our will.”
“It is the next best thing,” the Queen said. “Are you not grateful for your gift?”
“Of course we are,“ Raena said. “Thank you for making us yours.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Oressa said, “Thank you for killing us and making us serve.”
The ghostly specter lifted itself in the air.
“Very good,” Remora said, “I am very pleased, and I shall soon revisit the pleasures of your flesh. But for now, it is time to finally escape this cursed hiding place and reclaim what was taken from me.”
Their unbeating hearts lit up with cold, absolute purpose.
“No one shall stop you! They will all die, and they will become our army!” Oressa promised.
“We can kill them in their sleep,” Raena hissed. “Start with the ones that trust us. Kill them. Break their souls. Make them ours.”
“There shall be no need for that,” their Mistress said, and as she spoke, the sealed stone doors of the burial chambers were torn open. “Come, my servants,”
They obeyed, and stepped through the portal, into the antechamber they had crossed in their previous life. It was filled with a thousand specks of light, and Raena cast an illumination spell. The orb of light ascended high above them, shedding light on Remora’s undead army.
There were thousands of them. It was all the buried dead of the necropolis. It was all the buried dead that Raena and Oressa had unknowingly passed on their way in as they had lain in their sealed crypts and sarcophagi, waiting; already possessed and controlled, each of them making Remora grow stronger. They were why, even when Oressa and Raena had slain the raised kings, Remora had held onto her power. They were the reason why she had been able to cast death magic from thin air, powerful enough to kill them — powerful enough to trap their souls and bind them to her will.
And now their Mistress’s army had rallied. The dead of generations, ripped from their graves, their flesh made to serve. A thousand shambling corpses, mindless eyes glowing with the power that controlled them.
Oressa looked at their sunken eyes, their mummified skin, their near-skeletonized corpses.
Dead flesh, made to serve the one she belonged to.
It was beautiful.